Larry Oakes, a Star Tribune reporter who was widely considered one of the finest journalists in Minnesota, died Friday night in Duluth. He was 52.
Oakes committed suicide, his family said Saturday.
He had covered a wide range of topics for the Star Tribune over the years, most recently as a statewide reporter. For two decades before that, he was the paper’s top reporter in northern Minnesota, based in Duluth and free to write sweeping stories from the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, the Iron Range, Lake Superior and communities like Grand Rapids, International Falls and Ely.
Among his best-known projects were a 2004 series called “The Lost Youth of Leech Lake” and, this past year, “A Lethal Dose: The War on Synthetic Drugs.”
Previously, he worked for the Duluth News Tribune.
Oakes combined graceful writing and a dogged work ethic with deep empathy for the people he wrote about.
“No one painted a better mural of northern Minnesota with his reporting and writing in the years he worked from Duluth,” said Rene Sanchez, the Star Tribune’s managing editor. “His skills and values as a journalist, and his generous, self-effacing spirit as a person, will be deeply missed in our newsroom.”
Oakes’ son, Mike Oakes, of Duluth, said his father had struggled with depression for a few years and had been hospitalized Wednesday after telling his children that he was having suicidal thoughts. He returned to Duluth from a psychiatric ward in Hibbing on Friday with his daughter, Amy. He told her he was feeling better and would come up with a plan to fully recover, Mike said.
Oakes’ wife, Patty, was home when he arrived there Friday. He made plans to go to his daughter’s home for dinner. But when he left, he instead drove to Hawk Ridge on the northeast edge of Duluth, hiked about a mile into the woods and shot himself.
“His depression got the better of him in the last week, and I don’t think he was able to handle the weight of the world, or whatever he felt,” Mike Oakes said. “It just became too much to bear.”
Funeral services have not yet been scheduled.
Adam Belz • 612-673-4405